Cover image for Slaves in the family
Slaves in the family
Ball, Edward, 1959-
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Thorndike, Me. : G.K. Hall, 1999.

Physical Description:
843 pages ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Crane Branch Library F279.C453 A2 1998B Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print

On Order



In 1698, Elias Ball traveled from his home in England to take possession of his inheritance - a plantation in South Carolina and twenty slaves. He and his progeny built an American dynasty on the labor of nearly four thousand slaves. The author is a descendant of Elias. Here he chronicles the lives of the people who lived on his ancestors' lands, and most remarkable of all, he relates his travels across the U.S. to meet the descendants of Ball slaves. Their stories reveals how the effect of slavery live on in black and white life and memory, and Slaves in the Family is a story of people confronting their inescapable common history.

Author Notes

Robert Edward Ball, the 1998 National Book Award winner for his nonfiction book Slaves in the Family, was born in Purley, England, on March 8, 1911. He attended Westminster School; University of London, LL.B., 1932; and Law Society School of Law, 1933. His career began as a junior law partner for James Ball & Son, London, in 1933. He became a partner of Potts & Ball, Chester, England, in 1946, chancery master at the Supreme Court of Judicature, London in 1954, and chief chancery master in 1969.

His work includes contributions to Halsbury's Laws of England, third and fourth editions, The Law. and the Cloud of Unknowing, The Crown, and Supreme Morality. He also contributed to Atkin's Encyclopaedia of Court Forms, Studies in Moralogy, as well as various law journals. Awards include Member of Order of the British Empire in 1946 and Companion of Order of the Bath in 1977.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Journalist Ball conceived the idea to recount the family histories of his plantation-owning ancestors and, with more difficulty due to the paucity of records, the people they owned. This resulting microcosm of America's original sin of slavery is an innovative package of historical narrative and oral history and even modern reconciliation. In upholding their pillar in the structure of slavery, the Ball clan, whose rice-growing lands lay upriver of Charleston, weren't the cruelest of masters, or so said the family stories. This sentimental, fuzzy memory is belied by Ball's hard look at records stretching from the founding of the clan's wealth in 1698 to its end with the arrival of Union troops in 1865. In between, the author fascinatingly relates the Balls' grim involvement with slavery, such as advertising for runaways or riding the night patrol to catch them, and their dread of uprisings, as in the famous Denmark Vesey conspiracy of 1822. The mirror image of the Ball genealogy is that of the people they owned, and the author richly recounts the journeys and conversations he undertook to connect people named on the Ball slave lists with their living descendants. A multilevel effort to understand the past of slavery and its echo in the present, this is an informative, ruminative, and inspirational page-turner. --Gilbert Taylor

Library Journal Review

In this National Book Award-winning saga, Ball traces his family back to their first arrival on American shores and also traces the lineage of the slaves his ancestors once owned. He follows their stories through the decades as the families branched out. The Balls grew to be among the most prominent of South Carolina plantation owners; the black people suffered both slavery and the wrenching disruption of emancipation. In between his genealogical and historical explorations, the author interviews living descendants from both groups. Somehow he avoids a liberal angst in favor of a directly honest, matter-of-fact approach to both the subject and the people. The living Ball descendants are generally cautious as they approach the subject; the black families show almost no bitterness, and their stories are varied and intense. As a reader, Ball is subdued and rarely shows emotion; the narrative itself is what gives this presentation its punch. A mandatory acquisition for all audiobook collections.ÄDon Wismer, Cary Memorial Lib., Wayne, ME (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

YA-A compelling saga, Ball's biographical history of his family stands as a microcosm of the evolution of American racial relations. Meticulously researched, and aided by the fact that the South Carolina Ball families were compulsive record keepers, the story begins with the first Ball to arrive in Charleston in 1698. The family eventually owned more than 20 rice plantations along the Cooper River, businesses made profitable by the work of slaves. In the course of his research, the author learned that his ancestors were not only slave owners, but also that there was a highly successful slave trader company in his background. He was able to trace the offspring of slave women and Ball men (between 75,000 and 100,000 currently living) and locate a number of his own African-American distant cousins. Although records indicate that the author's forebearers were not by any means cruel or vicious owners, his remorse for these facets of his family history is clear. In the course of his research, he visited Bunce Island, off the coast of Sierra Leone, to see the fortress from which his ancestors loaded terrorized men, women, and children onto slave ships. Their story represents that of many African Americans. This book helps readers to visualize, if not understand, the slave legacy still enmeshed in this country today. Despite its length, this is an important, well-written slice of history that will be of interest to young adults.-Carol DeAngelo, Garcia Consulting Inc., EPA Headquarters, Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



My father had a little joke that made light of our legacy as a family that had once owned slaves. "There are five things we don't talk about in the Ball family," he would say. "Religion, sex, death, money, and the Negroes." "What does that leave to talk about?" my mother asked once. "That's another of the family secrets," Dad said, smiling. My father, Theodore Porter Ball, came from the venerable city of Charleston, South Carolina, the son of an old plantation clan. The Ball family's plantations were among the oldest and longest standing in the American South, and there were more than twenty of them along the Cooper River, North of Charleston. Between 1698 and 1865, the 167 years the family was in the slave business, close to four thousand black people were born into slavery to the Balls or bought by them. The crop they raised was rice, whose color and standard gave it the name Carolina Gold. After the Civil War, some of the Ball places stayed in business as sharecrop farms with paid black labor until about 1900, when the rice market finally failed in the face of competition from Louisiana and Asia. When I was twelve, Dad died and was buried near Charleston. Sometime during his last year, he brought together my brother, Theodore Jr., and me to give each of us a copy of the published history of the family. The book had a wordy title, Recollections of the Ball Family of South Carolina and the Comingtee Plantation . A distant cousin, long dead, had written the manuscript, and the book was printed in 1909 on rag paper, with a tan binding and green cloth boards. On the spine the words BALL FAMILY were embossed. The pages smelled like wet leaves. "One day you'll want to know about all this," Dad said, waving his hand vaguely, his lips pursed. "Your ancestors." The tone of the old joke was replaced by some nervousness. I know my father was proud of his heritage but at the same time, I suspect, had questions about it. The story of his slave-owning family, part of the weave of his childhood, was a mystery he could only partly decipher. With the gift of the book, Dad seemed to be saying that the plantations were a piece of unfinished business. In that moment, the story of the Ball clan was locked in the depths of my mind, to be pried loose one day. When I was a child, Dad used to tell stories about our ancestors, the rice planters. I got a personal glimpse of the American revolution, because the Balls had played a role in it--some of us fought for the British, some for independence. the Civil War seemed more real since Dad's grandfather and three great-uncles fought for the Confederacy. From time to time in his stories, Dad mentioned the people our family used to own. They were usually just "the slaves," sometimes "the Ball slaves," a puff of black smoke on the wrinkled horizon of the past. Dad evidently didn't know much about them, and I imagine he didn't want to know. "Did I ever tell you about Wambaw Elias Ball?" he might say. "His plantation was on Wambaw Creek. He had about a hundred and fifty slaves, and he was a mean fella." My father had a voice honed by cigarettes, an antique Charleston accent, and I liked to hear him use the old names. "Wambaw Elias was a Tory," Dad began. "I mean, he picked the wrong side in the Revolution." When the Revolutionary War reached the South, Wambaw Elias, instead of joining the American rebels, went to the British commander in Charleston, Lord Cornwallis, who gave him a company of men and the rank of colonel. Wambaw Elias fought the patriots and burned their houses until such time as the British lost and his victims called for revenge. The Americans went for Wambaw Elias's human property, dragging off some fifty slaves from Wambaw plantation, while other black workers managed to escape into the woods. Wambaw Elias knew he had no future in the United States and decided to cash in his assets. Eventually he captured the slaves who had run away, sold them, then took his family to England, where he lived for another thirty-eight years, regretting to the last that he had been forced to give up the life of a slave owner. In the Ball family, the tale of Wambaw Elias and his slaves passed as a children's story. Excerpted from Slaves in the Family by Robert Edward Ball All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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